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Hearing Impairment and Police Interactions

By the time we hit our teens, many basic safety precautions come naturally to us. Those lessons about looking both ways before crossing the street and waiting until the light turns green have been drilled into our psyches so we are appropriately alert when we are taking a stroll or driving our cars.

Nevertheless, if you experience or are starting to show signs of hearing loss, these safety alerts may not be as natural as they once were. Listening for the sound of an approaching car, for instance, is one warning that may be dulled if you experience hearing loss.

These types of concerns often lead people to seek treatment for hearing loss through the use of hearing aids. One scenario that is often overlooked, however, is police interactions and how your hearing loss may affect this often-intimidating experience.

How hearing loss and police interactions can go tragically wrong

On August 18, 2016 hearing loss made the front pages after police officers in Charlotte, North Carolina shot and killed Daniel K. Harris, a 29-year-old father of a four-year-old who was also Deaf. (source) The police officers attempted to pull Harris over for speeding, but when he did not stop his car at the sound of sirens, they proceeded to follow him for seven miles.

Reports indicate that Harris did not hear the sirens, which was why he continued driving, although it is unclear whether this was the case.

When Harris did eventually stop his car, he began to get out. A neighbor alleges that Harris was trying to communicate by sign language. An encounter with police ensued. Shots were fired. Harris was unarmed and died at the scene, in front of his home.

The police have now started a criminal inquiry into the death of Daniel K. Harris, but this of course cannot change the devastating consequence of this interaction with the police.

How you can ensure you have safe interactions with the police and know your rights

Police forces receive training on how to interact with people who experience hearing loss. Daniel Harris’s tragedy, however, has led many prominent individuals to call for greater protection and promotion of the rights of people with disabilities, including through increased police training and awareness (nytimes).

If you experience hearing loss, you can also take a proactive role in ensuring that your interactions with the police go smoothly. It is imperative to be informed about your rights when you are dealing with the police.

The ACLU and advocacy group HEARD recently published a video featuring Marlee Matlin, an actress who is Deaf, and also happens to be the wife of a police officer. The public service announcement focuses on informing people who experience hearing loss about their rights when interacting with the police.

Although police themselves should receive comprehensive training and it is ultimately their responsibility to ensure safe interactions, you can support this effort by knowing your rights and feeling assured of your safety if you get pulled over.

How police interactions can become safer through changes in the law

discussing and engaging with issues relating to hearing loss and safety, particularly in dealing with the police. Harris’s family are themselves leading the charge on this issue.

They have set up a fundraising page to assist with Harris’ memorial services but all leftover proceeds are going towards making fundamental changes to better the lives of other people who experience hearing loss. At the time of writing, they raised $31,298 of their $40,000 goal – a staggering sum, which shows how much their tragedy has affected people across the country.

One of these fundamental changes that the Harris family is seeking is to implement is through a “DEAF” alert, which would be mandatory to place on the registration of all persons with profound hearing loss who own vehicles. This would mean that any time a police officer scans a driver’s license plate, this alert would come up, letting the officer know that, for example, the individual may not be able to hear the sirens being used to pull him or her over.

These basic but fundamental changes could go a long way in raising awareness about hearing loss and increasing safety when dealing with the police.

How Gulf Gate can help

Through raising awareness, knowing your rights and seeking to implement change, you can be confident in interacting with the police.

If you have not yet sought treatment for your hearing loss, however, we would encourage you to schedule a free hearing test with the hearing instrument specialists at Gulf Gate, where we can assess your options in treating your hearing loss through hearing devices.

To schedule a free hearing test, give us a call at 941-922-5894 or visit us at 2170 Gulf Gate Drive Sarasota, FL.

Gulf Gate Hearing Aid Center

Our friendly staff is looking forward to hearing from you. Call us today at (941) 922-5892

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